9.3. The Legislative Branch Makes Laws For the framers of the Constitution,

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1 9.3. The Legislative Branch Makes Laws For the framers of the Constitution, the first step in building a trusted government was to create a fair way to make laws. Article I of the Constitution gives the power to make laws to the legislative branch of government. The Structure of Congress The Constitution creates a bicameral, or two part, national legislature called Congress. The two parts, or houses, of Congress are the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of the Senate serve six year terms so that they can enjoy some independence from the day to day opinions of voters. In contrast, members of the House serve two year terms. As a result, they have to face the voters much more often. In this way, the framers tried to balance the independence and thoughtfulness of the Senate with the House s responsiveness to the changing wishes of the voters. The framers also designed Congress to balance the rights of large and small states. Thus, while every state gets two senators, representation in the House is based on population. States with more people have more representatives in the House. To determine the number of representatives for each state, the Constitution calls for a census (a count of the population) to be conducted every ten years. In time, the number of representatives in the House was set at 435, divided among the states based on their population. The framers considered the Senate to be the upper house of the legislature. Its members are supposed to be wiser and more experienced than members of the lower house. Senators must be at least 30 years old, while House members must be 25. Senators must have been citizens for nine years, House members for just seven years.

2 Originally, the Constitution allowed state legislatures to choose the two senators to represent their state. Today, however, senators are elected by popular vote (direct vote by the people). How Congress Makes Laws The primary job of Congress is to make laws. Any member of the House or Senate can submit a proposal for a new law, called a bill. However, only the House can propose new taxes. If a majority in one house votes in favor of the bill, it is sent to the other house for debate. If both houses approve the bill, it goes to the president.the bill becomes a law if the president signs it. The president can veto any proposed law. Congress can override the president s veto,which means passing the bill over the president s objections. But to do so requires a two thirds majority in both houses. The Powers of Congress Article I spells out other powers of Congress. For example, only Congress can decide how to spend the money raised through taxes. Other congressional powers include the power to raise an army and navy, to declare war, to pay government debts, and to grant citizenship.

3 In addition, Congress may make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper to carry out its other powers. This power, known as the elastic clause, gives Congress the flexibility needed to do its job. Over the years, the elastic clause has been stretched to allow Congress to do many things that were never listed among its powers in the Constitution The Executive Branch Carries Out the Laws A government needs people to carry out, or execute, the laws passed by the legislature.for instance, when Congress approves a tax, someone must collect the money. When Congress appropriates, or sets aside, money for low cost housing, someone must build and manage the housing. Article II of the Constitution describes the branch of government that fills this role, the executive branch. The head of the executive branch is the president. The president is often called the chief executive. Electing the President Delegates at the Constitutional Congress were not prepared to let the people elect the president directly. Instead, they decided that the president would be selected by a group of electors. Each state would have the same number of electors as it had representatives and senators in Congress. To win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of the electoral vote. The president serves a four year term. Under the Twenty second Amendment, a president may be reelected only once. A new president makes a solemn promise called the oath of office. The Constitution gives the exact words of the oath. The oath calls for the president to defend the Constitution. These words reinforce the importance of the Constitution as the basic law of the land.

4 The Powers of the President In addition to carrying out laws passed by Congress, the president is commander in chief of the nation s military forces. He or she can, with the consent of the Senate, make treaties, or formal agreements, with other nations. The president nominates, or recommends, ambassadors (official representatives to other countries) and Supreme Court justices (judges). Finally, the president can grant pardons to people convicted of violating federal, or national, laws. The framers expected that the executive branch would need organizations, called departments, to carry out its duties. For example, the State Department handles relations with other nations. The Justice Department is involved in law enforcement as well as court actions. The heads of executive departments are members of the president s cabinet, a formal group of advisers. Today, the executive branch has over a dozen executive departments. Each executive department contains smaller, specialized agencies. For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services contains the Food and Drug Administration. This agency works to ensure that foods and medicines meet safety standards that have been set by Congress. Removing the President The Constitution gives Congress the power to remove a president or other officials from office if they commit certain crimes related to their duties.the House of Representatives can vote to impeach the president. To impeach means to formally accuse the president of the crimes specified in the Constitution. These include Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. If the House votes to impeach, the Senate puts the president on trial, with the senators serving as the jury. If found guilty, the president is removed from office. A president must be a natural born American citizen and at least 35 years old. The Constitution always refers to the president as he. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention probably assumed that only men would ever vote or hold office. But nothing in the Constitution prevents a woman from being elected president.

5 9.5. The Judicial Branch Interprets the Law The framers intended for the Constitution to be the supreme Law of the Land. That means no other laws or actions by the government or by any state can conflict with the Constitution. Protecting the Constitution is one of the principal responsibilities of the third branch of government, the judicial branch. The judicial branch consists of the system of federal courts and judges. Article III of the Constitution gives the basic framework of the judicial branch. It establishes the country s highest court, the Supreme Court. It also gives Congress the power to create inferior (lower) courts to meet the nation s needs. Federal courts also have the power to resolve disputes that involve national laws, the federal government, or the states. People accused of breaking national laws can be tried in federal courts. Federal Court System Congress has authorized two main sets of inferior federal courts. These lower courts are called district courts and appellate courts. Most cases involving federal laws are first heard in district court. The United States is divided into large geographic districts. Each district covers several states. Citizens can appeal decisions given in district court, which means asking a higher court to review the case. Courts that review cases are called courts of appeal or appellate courts. An appellate court only considers whether the original trial was fair and legal. A decision by an appellate court can be appealed to the Supreme Court. The Powers of the Supreme Court The Supreme Court is the last stop in the judicial system. Its decisions are final, and they are binding on all lower courts. The Constitution does not specify the size of the Supreme Court. Congress has set the size at nine members, who are called justices.the Constitution says that all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, serve for good Behaviour. Once they are appointed, justices usually serve on the Court for life.

6 A dispute goes directly to the Supreme Court only if it involves a state or an ambassador from another country. Any other case comes to the Supreme Court after a trial and an appeal in lower courts. Participants in either national or state courts may eventually appeal cases to the Supreme Court. Every year, lawyers ask the Supreme Court to review thousands of cases, but the Court agrees to consider only about a hundred. The Supreme Court usually reviews a case only if the justices think the decision made by a lower court might conflict with the Constitution or a federal law. After hearing statements from both sides, the justices debate among themselves and vote. Supreme Court decisions are announced and explained in writing.these decisions then guide later decisions in lower courts. In 1803, the Supreme Court defined the power of judicial review in the case of Marbury v.madison. This is the power to decide whether laws and acts made by the legislative and executive branches conflict with the Constitution. Courts all over the country rely on the Supreme Court for guidance about what is constitutional. Judicial review gives the Supreme Court great power in its role of protecting the supreme Law of the Land.

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